Women and Absence

What’s really interesting is not man’s struggles against other humans, but rather man’s struggle against ‘nature’. By ‘nature’, we actually mean the the experience of reading or other forms of memory overload — I still recall the memory of lying dazed and realizing just how little I understood of what I read as a valid insight. Women — as we encounter them in literature, present an interesting oppurtunity, in the books we’re interested in they are characterized by a kind of domesticity which means that they never really go out and experience things. Experience is actually a bad thing, convention tells us its how we get at the essence of things but actually its merely the tendency to turn the natural into the interpersonal. Sports are a good example, there is too much hero worship in sports, too much emphasis on competition, too much humanization and not enough psychology. I honestly believe that certain people are stuck at a certain level because of an ideological impasse: it’s not that they have bad coordination but rather that they have wrong ideas about how to improve or what athletic activities involve, they lack an understanding of their own minds or their own bodies. Atheleticism is awesome, it’s an exploration that each person has to take by themselves — which no one can teach you — of the technical abilities of your mind (understood as pure technical control mechanism) and body. And there is no shame in being slower, weaker, smaller, dumber, since it’s a matter of how you play the cards you are dealt — your mind and body are the same, your … soul, let’s call it, is the gambler we refer to here and that’s what emerges in athleticism. On the other hand its incredibly annoying playing with someone who disagrees with (read: doesn’t understand) this basic philosophy. But, less proseletyzing and more on topic … there needs to be a shift away from conventional narratives of interpersonal competition towards these narratives of mind, body, and risk — which is actually far more pragmatic as well — in sports. But we can’t really stick with sports because in the end it is rather limited as it is a purely technical activity. The relationship between man (or rather, here, women) and nature that we have in mind can be far more jarring, it is not merely the confrontation of mind with information — well, it is, of course — but it cannot be stabilized into these opposing categories: last time we compared it to settling on an ‘invariance’ as opposed to the ‘immobile’, something that remains the same even under continued transformation.

We are interested in women because they do not. ‘go out there’ and never develop the sense of ‘totality’ (or, ‘humanism’, as in the sports example) that we speak of above. This sounds like psychobabble, but it defensible here: there is always something ‘absent’ in women, and this absence is a major component of the invariant structure that they have formed. I just want to point out here that this absence is not, in fact, something mysterious or psychoanalytical, we are still commited to the notion of a ‘convergence towards invariance’ and the idea of ‘man and nature rather than humanism’: this applies to both men and women. The absence derives from their eternal outsider status, their self-acknowledged lack of experience (“I may not have understood all that he said” — the Intended) — it’s hard to place precisely, it cannot be said to be a single thing — we can call it even, a ‘figure’, which should not hear evoke structuralism, ie, a figure is not a category, defined by it’s difference from other things, but rather, oddly enough, precisely this absence which cannot be pinned down.

For example, for Kurtz’s ‘widow’, his Intended, they were never married, Kurtz himself becomes this figure for everything that was ‘out there’. It’s interesting what Marlow experiences shortly before his meeting: he hears the leaves whisper: ‘the horror, the horror’. The sound of the leaves have become unearthly, they are (again) able to reference things — ‘again’ because they had once referenced things — in prehistoric times, or maybe even in youth. The sound of the leaves is not at all that disimilar from the sounds of the book itself — as we know, or as I recall from my last experience reading, it’s not that we ‘understand’ one more than the other. But what’s interesting is how all things are unified under Kurtz, how the trees are able to speak because of Kurtz.

Marlow and the Intended have a similar experience but the difference is that Marlow’s is a bit more ‘supernatural’, explicitly supernatural. This sense of the supernatural he draws from his experience in Africa, ‘the night of the first ages’ and especially African culture which in fact receives very little attention in the book but is always there in the background. It’s told that Kurtz, sabotaged and stranded in the inner station, gave in to its temptations. African culture is that which mediates between man and the jungle and gives the jungle its voice. So Marlow remembers the jungle as a living thing, as we might treat ‘the bells of Christian countries’ — something full of mysterious significance. There is a mysticism that Conrad associates with women, the Intended who places her hand on the packet of letters without reading them, so that the letters would continue to have their figural power.

The argument here is that the convergence towards invaraince — and language would perhaps seem almost as a survival mechanism (I really want to write about this in the future) — takes place when it is stabilized by the figure. Well, when we speak of the totalizing, then there, it has reached a stability, but, we want to say, of a different sort. This figure is what allows something to retain its open-endedness while still being closed off, while still being an ‘invariant’…

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